Brentford suffered a further dent to their automatic promotion hopes in the Championship as they were held to a draw for the third match running at Huddersfield Town.
Following stalemates against Derby County and Nottingham Forest before the international break, Brentford again laboured against bottom-half opposition and now find themselves nine points adrift of second-placed Watford, albeit with a game in hand.
They had to come from behind just to claim a point, with defender Mads Sorensen’s leveller shortly after half-time at least taking them above Swansea City and into third.
Lewis O’Brien had scored an early opener for Huddersfield, who are now on a five-match unbeaten and eight points clear of the relegation zone in 18th.
Story of the match
Brentford looked unsettled at the start, and it was reflected in the very poor goal they gave away after just seven minutes. Mads Roerslev unwisely passed to Christian Norgaard under tight pressure from Alex Vellejo, whose challenge gave O’Brien the ball. The midfielder spotted David Raya at sea and caught him out by rolling the ball into the near corner from range while the Spaniard was still scampering into position in goal.
Neither side were establishing much rhythm in a slow-paced game, and the visitors only began to hit their stride slowly as the half went on. Vitaly Janelt forced the first save from Ryan Schofield while a penalty should have been awarded when Naby Sarr carelessly controlled a ball with his arm, but referee Oliver Langford waved away furious protests.
Frustrated Norgaard and Bryan Mbeumo efforts rather summed up Brentford’s first half, and the only other trouble Huddersfield faced before the break came when Ivan Toney flicked on a long throw and Mbeumo was inches from heading in at the back post.
Whatever Thomas Frank said at the break was highly effective, because an entirely different Brentford came out for the second half and they were level within five minutes. Sarr had brilliantly denied Pontus Jansson on the line from a Sergi Canos cross, but Janelt returned the ball straight back into the danger zone and Sorensen managed to turn in.
Within another minute they could have completed the turnaround. Canos played in Toney who struck a powerful drive, but the inside of the near post denied the Championship’s top scorer from celebrating his 29th goal of the season.
Carlos Corberan switched his Huddersfield side from a back four to a three in response to the shift in momentum, and managed to put them back on the front foot. O’Brien could have had a penalty when he was clipped from behind by Sorensen, and Raya had to be sharp in making a good low save to deny Demeaco Duhaney, who had been played into space by the hard-working Yaya Sanogo.
Both teams found space in an open end to the contest and the promotion-chasing outfit had the best late chance, but Sarr made another fine block to deny Toney and Norgaard volleyed the rebound wide as Brentford had to settle for a point once again.
This was another big jolt to Brentford’s promotion aspirations and, with Watford now flying into the distance on the back of a stunning run of form, a place in the top two looks increasingly improbable.
Of just as much concern as the result here will be the performance, with their famed attacking firepower only sparking in very small patches. Their start to the game – whether down to the pitch, Huddersfield’s press or lack of cohesion following the international break - was very poor and it didn’t get much better until the spell after the break which brought the opener and their closest other chance.
All the tools are there for Brentford to mount a serious challenge, but the rhythm found during their lengthy unbeaten run earlier in the season needs to be rediscovered in the coming weeks, with coaxing the most out of Mbeumo and Canos sure to be a top priority.
Unless another stunning run can be embarked upon, it seems likely that their place in the play-offs will become guaranteed a little sooner than last season, at least, so when the time comes they can physically and mentally prepare better than on that occasion, but there is a lot more work to be done if they are going to be capable of promotion.
More Terriers encouragement
For Huddersfield, this result represents another positive step in the right direction and a move closer to Championship safety. Although another couple of wins are likely to be needed, they appear to have the style and confidence required to get them following a dire start to 2021 when that didn’t look to be the case.
Corberan has switched between a four and a three at the back all season and still appears no closer to deciding which is the best set-up for his side, but at least now both look capable of producing positive outcomes, and both were effective at different times in this contest in different ways.
Starting with a 4-3-3 saw them press from the front effectively at the start as they did earlier in the season, helping earn the lead and keep Brentford largely at arms’ length. When the visitors began to find another level, the introduction of Richard Stearman at the back saw them retain more control in a 3-5-2.
Key to giving them different ways to play has been the signing of free agent Sanogo, who has given them an extra striking option alongside Fraizer Campbell and proved a useful outlet again here. What the future holds next season for Corberan’s tactics is uncertain, but Sanogo has proved a real boost in making both formations more effective and has a good chance of sticking around to be a part of it.
Man of the match - Lewis O'Brien (Huddersfield)
After a smart opening goal, O’Brien produced an excellent all-round display, battling hard in midfield and providing a consistent threat to Brentford down the left-hand side.